Read an Excerpt
By noon of the day after the destruction of the Number Three Hiver sphere, the newly promoted Admiral Ashiant was already giving orders to elements of his Fleet to implement the second phase of their five-year mission. They could now begin to identify and reconnoitre all Hiver-occupied worlds in this quadrant of space. They were to initiate in-depth probes of such planets, disable any orbiting spheres and establish monitoring satellites to warn the Alliance of any further suspicious surface activity.
As the Vadim and KLTL were already within the system targeted by Number Three as possessing a primary similar to their original one, Admiral Ashiant ordered Captains Pat Shepherd and Prlm to do a thorough environmental exploration of the viable planets in the M-5 and M-6 positions.
"They might as well," Admiral Ashiant told his Captain, Ailsah Vandermeer, "since the chase to destroy the two remaining scouts has already taken them halfway there. Rather far out to consider an immediate colonization of those worlds, but who knows how fast the Alliance will spread once the threat of Hivers is reduced? The Mrdini certainly need more space."
"So they do," Ailsah agreed sympathetically.
"I suspect those habitable worlds closer in to our home systems, `Dini and Human, will receive the first mandates. However"and he slapped his desk top decisively"no need for us to hang about. Captain Vandermeer, if you will please initiate a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree turn of the Washington, we'll begin the long journeyhome."
"Aye, sir," Vandermeer said, giving him a crisp salute and a wry grin. "It will, as you know, take us five full ship days to slow enough to execute the maneuver."
"Long enough for Shepherd and Prlm to do their probes and be halfway back to us," Ashiant murmured.
"Should be an interesting cruise, sir."
"Indeed," Admiral Ashiant said, lightly fingering the circle of tiny stars that was his new rank. Hastily withdrawing his hand, he cleared his throat.
"Anything else, sir?" Vandermeer asked, pretending not to see that gesture.
"No, Captain, that'll be all. Good day."
When news of those orders reached the Primes relaxing in the FT&T lounge, there was both excitement and regret.
"I wish one of us had been able to go with Captain Shepherd," said the recently promoted Lieutenant T-2 Clancy Sparrow in a wistful tone. "It'd be interesting to see what Hivers consider `perfect worlds.'"
"They seem to have found sixteen planets near enough perfect to eliminate any other life-forms, including Deneb," Prime Talent Thian remarked in a droll tone. "And seemingly about one in five of other M-type worlds we marked on our way while pursuing Number Three."
He still couldn't believe that he and his fellow Talents had managed to defeat the Hiver sphere: a process in which, after the first skirmish, only the enemy had died. It had been incumbent on the Alliancesomehowto keep the Hivers from establishing a new home system to replace the original world that had been consumed by their sun's nova. If Prime Talent Thian had thought of a way to reduce loss of life among Human and Mrdini, surely he should not be criticized for devising what was now known as the Genesee ploy. That fact that he was Talent was the point of dispute, for Talent should not be involved in combat, however tenuous the connection. The pacifist element of Humankind had been appalled and the FT&T organization had received considerable criticism, despite the success of the Genesee ploy. The success was almost irrelevant in the storm of display and rebuke. However, the majority of the Alliance had been relieved that the problem had resulted in few losses. After all, the Prime Talents had only delivered what the Navy explosive experts had prepared. "Teleportation" was a main FT&T function. The explosive packages, carefully placed on the Hiver fuel tanks, had been actually detonated by naval personnel with the sanction of the High Council and on the orders of Admiral Ashiant, so the Talent involvement had been a quite legitimate duty.
The old argument about a gun not being dangerous until it is loaded and aimed at a target was revised and adjusted to the FT&T. So, as the delivery agent, like a gun delivering a bullet, were the Talents guilty because they had sent a lethal package where it could destroy the acknowledged enemy of the Alliance? Or were those who gave the command for the substance to explode the guilty ones? That the resultant combination of "Talents" and "naval specialists" had caused the enemy ships to disintegrate offered much fuel to the point where the satisfactory outcome was nearly irrelevant.
A good night's sleep had restored energy to the Primes and the rest of their team on the Washington, and they'd wound up the last details of their controversial participation in the battle to their own satisfaction. They were definitely looking forward to the exploration phase of their current assignment, studying the scanty probe reports of the first Hiver-occupied planet on the Fleet's return heading.
"Will we have to wait until the other ships rejoin the Fleet before we actually get to probe or land on the up-coming world?" Clancy asked, pacing up and down the lounge cabin.
"Don't see why we'd need to wait for Shepherd and Prim," Thian said. He was himself beginning to get restless, though the respite from frantic activity and precision teleportations had been welcome.
"Don't see why not if we get there first," Clancy said.
"Speaking of getting anywhere, just when do I get transferred to the Columbia?" asked Prime Rojer, cocking his head and making his urgency plain to his older brother and team leader. "That was the deal for me, remember? I help demolish the Hiver spheres and then I get transferred to the Columbia"
"And Cousin Asia," Clancy put in, his expression carefully bland. Rojer shot him a dire look that Clancy ignored.
"When you've helped me reprovision this squadron," Thian answered, linking his fingers behind his head as he leaned back and stretched out his long legs.
"Then you don't think the conservatives are going to insist that FT&T stop assisting the Fleet?" Roj asked.
Clancy's scoffing laugh echoed Thian's dismissal of that possibility.
"Look, bro," Thian said, sitting forward, elbows on his knees. "The FT&T was very carefully," and he emphasized the syllables, "nurtured as an autonomous public service"
"And who can argue that getting rid of an implacable enemy isn't a public service?" Clancy put in.
"Back in the twenty-first century, when Henry Darrow was the manager of our budding organization, he determined to split it from any political group and to remain legally separate from any governmental agency until Earth became a united world. His successors studiously kept FT&T apolitical and also made certain that the facilities of the Towers were on a first-come-first-serve basis. It's impossible to bribe a Talent, remember, not with Primes who can 'read' anyone's mind. The guilty always give themselves away anyhow." He grinned. "Of course, the present emergency with the greedy Hivers required FT&T to do a lot of kinetic transfers that would make the founders of our elite band spin in their graves. Nevertheless, it is still in our precious Charter that we Talents are required to teleport a lot of people and things that are repellent to our sensitive souls, though not illegal. Meanwhile we preserve the entity and integrity of FT&T ..."
"And suborn Primes whenever they could be found ..." Clancy added. "Like your grandmother on Altair."
"Granddad was the one who was really suborned. He had had no intention of leaving Deneb ... before he met Grandmother." Thian's grin was broad. "Had the Hivers but known they had met their match in Jeff Raven and Angharad Gwyn aka the Rowan as partners, they might have quit while they were ahead."
"Not while there were Hiver queens needing planets to colonize," Clancy put in.
"And that, of course, brought the entire FT&T organization in at the time of the Deneb Penetration with the Rowan as the focus for the Mind Merge that helped Jeff Raven dispatch the Hiver scouts trying to depopulate his homeworld," said Roger.
"And why the Mrdinis decided to ask us, through Mother and Dad, to join forces and defeat the Hivers," Thian said, "since we could take out a Hiver sphere without having to resort to suicide missions." He leaned back again, pleased with his summation of the events leading up to recent developments: denying the Hivers a new base from which to continue their unique form of colonization.
"I wonder how many of the bleeding hearts and conservatives have bothered to see the Hiver queen at Heinlein Base," Rojer said. "The sight of her would be instructive."
"We could ask Cousin Roddie Eagles." Thian gave his brother another sly look.
Rojer's anxiety to get to the Columbia had much to do with his courtship of Roddie's youngest sister, Asia, an engineer as well as a T-4. Initially the Columbia, flagship of Squadron B's five ships, had been sent to examine four M-type planets that had been used, and abused, by the Hivers, onenamed Marengobeing on the verge of total ecological disaster. The massive effort initiated to save the world was well under way and some encouraging succession of hardy grassoids had already been triumphantly broadcast. Ruins of Hiver occupations were evident on two of the other planets, Waterloo and Talavera, while the fourth, Ciudad Rodrigo, seemed to have an active Hiver colony.
"I should be aboard the Columbia]. Now. Not still stuck here."
"Don't fret so, Roj," Thian said, broadcasting soothing thoughts to his pacing brother. "Our orders were approved by both High Councillors, Admiral Mekturian and Gktmglnt. They'll handle any interference to the rest of our mission."
"Not to mention Earth Prime Jeff Raven and Callisto Prime Rowan," Clancy added. "I see no reason for anxiety, Roj." Clancy at least forbore to tease his cousin about the real reason for his fretfulnessmissing Asia.
"All we have to do on our way home," Thian said, "is find all the Hiver-occupied planets ... and constrain attempts by any of them to dispatch another colonial venture."
"That's all!" Rojer's voice dripped with sarcasm.
"Which will probably take the best part of our lives," Clancy said, not particularly depressed by the prospect. "I might even make commander by the time we're done."
"I doubt we'll devote our lives to the project," Thian said, gesturing to include his brother.
"No, you're Primes," Clancy agreed without rancor.
There was a pause.
"Think I can talk the Admiral into letting me get down on the Hiver world we're heading for?" Thian asked wistfully. He clasped and unclasped his hands in frustration.
"You're a Prime, Thi," Clancy said. "Too valuable to be risked."
"And far more capable of defending myself than anyone else on the ship," Thian said, then bowed quickly to his brother. "And you too, Roj. I'm sure I'd find something no one else could."
"You're a Lyon, aren't you," Clancy said, "as well as a Prime? You will," he added with a reassuring grin, and stretched his legs out, yawning. "The Admiral won't deny you anything."
"Well, then again, Ashiant may be under orders not to risk you on anything, Thian," said Rojer in a knowing drawl.
"Oh?" Thian's raised eyebrows encouraged Rojer to elaborate on that statement.
"You can't be risked, bro," Rojer said with a snort. "They need you to take over from either Grandmother or possibly Grandfather."
Thian gawked at his brother. "How do you come to that remarkable conclusion?"
"You've been the focus for all our Mind Merges. I'm surprised you didn't guess. It's obvious to me"Rojer looked over to Clancy, who nodded in agreement"that you're the logical successor."
Thian sat for a moment, mouth agape; then he "glanced" into the minds of his younger brother and cousin and realized that both were certain of that. Slapping his forehead dramatically, he flung himself back on the couch, staggered by the prospect.
"Not for a few more decades," Rojer said consolingly, "since, praise be, our grandparents seem in excellent health."
"Spare me!" Thian said, groaning, his hand still clapped to his forehead.
What's the matter, Thian? asked Alison Ann Greevy, T-5, nursing empath, from the sick bay.
Thian let his lover, Gravy, "hear" the conversation.
Oh, I thought something was wrong, she said with a mental sigh of relief, and her mind touch left his.
"What's wrong with that sort of future, bro?" Rojer asked. "You're at least getting a chance to travel now and see real life and all that good stuff. Besides, you've got Gravy. And it isn't as if you can't pick a nice inaccessible spot to live in to enjoy your private life when you do get stuck with being Earth Prime." Rojer rolled his eyes, coloring his thoughts with envious scenes of marital harmony.
That's enough of that! Thian said sternly, abandoning his shocked surprise.
Rojer only grinned, delighted to have annoyed Thian. "And don't keep me here one moment past getting the last load of supplies on board."
"I'll be well rid of you," Thian said emphatically.
"I'll never be more than a thought away," Rojer said, and teleported himself out of the room before his brother could take physical vengeance.
Thian caught Clancy's amused glance and, with a laugh, was restored to his usual good humor.
"Younger brothers," Clancy murmured sympathetically.
That evening in the privacy of their quarters, Thian and Gravy had talked over the prospect of his having to take up either of those tremendous responsibilitiesEarth Prime or Callisto Station. Since both his parents and grandparents had expressed their approval of Alison Ann, the couple no longer needed to conduct their liaison as discreetly as possible. Indeed, once Thian knew his attachment to Gravy was approved, he teleported her belongings into his quarters.
"Frees space up for someone else," she'd muttered as she saw her things neatly being fitted into his closets and drawers. "Though it was kinda fun being zapped about by you, Thi darlin'."
"You never knew where you were going to wake up, though," he'd teased, hugging her tightly against him.
"Well, I'm here where I belong," was her contented reply.
She was, however, surprised when Admiral Ashiant adroitly started including Lieutenant Greevy when he invited the FT&T personnel to his mess table, a tacit recognition of their current status as well as public approval. Once Alison Ann got over the shock, she rather enjoyed the perks that now came her way more frequently.
"'Sides which, no one dares complain about 'em either," Gravy added, tweaking Thian's nose. "They're jealous and can't do a thing about it."
The next morning Earth Prime Jeff Raven contacted Thian.
Supply drones are ready, Thian, said Jeff. Let's see how many we can forward at a time, shall we?
As you like, Thian replied, accepting the challenge, and allowed his grandfather to hear him summoning the merge on his end of the exchange. He smiled to himself, remembering Rojer's prediction, though he kept that very much in the back of his mind. He didn't intend to be styled a "cocky boy" by his grandmother, the Rowan. Incoming cargo, he 'pathed to the other ships in the Fleet in a broadcast alert.
Thian's team quickly assembled in their "command" room, with its comformable couches: Rojer teleported in, Clancy and Commander Semirame Kloo used their own feet, and so did CPO Lea Day since she had been nearby when she received Thian's summons. The Fleet electrician was a new addition to the team but was improving steadily with each new opportunity to use her previously unexpected parapsychic Talent. She liked being what she called a "power weasel."
They had only just arranged themselves on the couches when Jeff warned them of the first shipmentnine drones.
And we thought the big daddies from Iota Aurigae were heavy, Rojer said, and warned the boat bays to stand by to receive the drones about to be imported.
On their way, Jeff said, and the team caught the first shipment at the halfway mark and deftly brought them in to the readied space.
That's for the Washington. Are the other boat bays alerted? asked Jeff.
They have been, Thian replied, and checking briefly, knew the other ships' Talents were standing by to receive.
Then Jeff called out which drones went to which ship and they spent the next half an hour completing the reprovisioning.
Now can I go to the Columbia, Grandfather? Rojer asked.
Are you packed? There was a malicious laugh tagging along with that question.
Half a mo, Rojer replied, frowning in concentration.
"We'll send on anything you left behind," Thian said at his most helpful. "And say hi to all when you get there."
Rojer disappeared from his couch, his 'Dinis, Gil and Kat, with him.
We're set. Takes longer to get into the carrier than ...
Thian didn't really need his team's help to push Rojer's personal capsule to the Columbia, for he felt his grandfather's touch assisting him, then Flavia's when Rojer arrived at the Constellation-class Columbia flagship.
Thanks, Jeff, Thian. We've been expecting him.
Keep him out of trouble, Thian said, and sent a fleeting kiss to Flavia and his younger sister, Zara, who was present in the Columbia's teleport team.
You couldn't, was Zara's pert reminder, and Thian kinetically tweaked her nose to remind her of his seniority. She sent a laugh back over the incredible distance between them.
How soon will you arrive at the first suspect system, Thian? asked his grandfather, all business after the sibling exchange.
Admiral ... Thian paused to emphasize the new rank and felt his grandfather's satisfaction. Ashiant advised us last night that we should make the heliopause by tomorrow evening. We're slowing now. The first exploratory probe indicates that the M-4 is occupied and has an old Hiver ship in orbit.
Strange the Hivers didn't notice the proximity of such a close match for their homeworld.
There's quite a distance between the two star systems, sir. And besides, if the ship's as old as it looks to be, the colony queens probably didn't know it existed when they stopped at this one.
Same sphere ship design? asked Jeff.
Hiver design never changes ... except to get bigger. Anyway, analysis of the pitting and metal fatigue on this sphere suggests this one has been hanging in orbit a long time.
Garbage? Jeff asked succinctly, since Hiver planets invariably used space as a refuse dump.
Not as much as you'd think from the age of the sphere.
Hmm. Check it out thoroughly.
Why? Does another 'Dini planet want its own display?
There had been four vacant spheres captured in orbit around other Hiver-occupied planets. These had been brought back to the 'Dini homeworlds, much honor accruing to the colors of the prize crews.
No. We're more curious about length of settlement as well as its current population. There doesn't seem to be a hard-and-fast rule of when queens send out new expeditions.
Or when their planet begins to get overcrowded?
Why is that important, Grandfather? Thian asked.
If we knew precisely what factors precipitate a need for migration, we might know how to inhibit them and contain the queens on the planets they now inhabit.
Trouble with the conservatives? Or the bleeding hearts?
Thian caught the amusement in his grandfather's response. A bit of both.
From which source? Human or 'Dini?
A laugh echoed between minds. A bit of both.
All right. I'll refrain from asking questions you have no intention of answering.
Your grandmother sends her regards. So do your mother and father. And the presence that was Jeff Raven left Thian's mind.
When he took notice again of his immediate surroundings, Gravy was there with a glass of his favorite restorative. Even though that had not been a particularly taxing use of his Talent, Alison Ann in her capacity as Talent nurturer insisted that they all replenish their bodies after every teleportational session. She had half finished her own drink. Clancy, Semirame and Lea Day were dutifully sipping theirs. The "power weasel" didn't look as tired from this day's work as she had been from others'. She was shaping up nicely into a good backup kinetic. She raised her glass in a toast to him. As he returned it, his eyes fell on the couch that Rojer had so recently occupied. He blinked.
Didn't you think you'd miss him, Thi? Gravy asked, cocking her head at him.
Actually, no, but I do. And that surprised Thian. And if you say he's only a thought away, I'll ... I'll ...
"Quickly now, Prime, think of something," she teased, and ruffled his hair.
He patiently smoothed it back with his free hand just as the com unit bleated.
"Yes sir," Thian said promptly, for the call originated from the Admiral's ready room. Ashiant's rugged face filled the screen.
"Will you and your team please join me for dinner tonight, Prime Lyon?" Ashiant asked.
"We'd be delighted, sir," Thian replied. "Did your steward get all he ordered?"
"He's still checking, but I understand the manifests included all his requirements and wishes to make full use of the freshest."
"Very thoughtful of you, sir," Thian replied.
"My choice, Prime," Ashiant said, and disconnected.
"No more than he should," said Gravy staunchly. "You should get pick of the crop."
"He doesn't mean me, does he?" asked Lea Day, surprised. CPOs did not normally dine at the captain's table.
"You're part of the team, Lea," Thian said. "What's the matter? Don't you like slumming in officers' territory?"
"Not really ... if it's only us, the team, I mean. I try not to disappear from my station, you know. Might cause bad feeling."
"We'll avoid that whenever possible," Thian said, though he doubted the problem was immediate since the whole squadron was still elated by their destruction of the final Hiver sphere. As Lea Day had been part of the Talent team to help effect that destruction, she was a persona very grata. But envy was common among the non-Talented for those who had a measurable quantity of psychic ability. Maybe he should discuss her position with the Admiral and see if Lea could be bumped up to ensign. He suspected she'd rather stay a CPO, top of her own pile, than become an ensign and bottom of another. Not that, in the final analysis, a Talent was ever bottom of anything.
She was an attractive woman, her dark hair crew-cut like a velvet skullcap in the acceptable fashion that did not, in her case, disguise her essential femininity. In her early forties, she was nearly as tall as he, lean and trim in her shipsuit; a career petty officer, having come up from the ranks: a native of Earth from the old American continental mass who'd joined as soon as she was old enough to enlist. Her electrical skillsespecially her uncanny ability to avoid live wires and unnecessary shocks and to dowse exactly the trouble spot in the mass of circuit conduits needed by spaceshipsshould have alerted someone long ago to her latent Talent. Commander Kloo had spotted it when CPO Day had been assigned to the crews examining the captured sphere that Rojer and his father had teleported back to Phobos Moon Base. Admiral Ashiant had had her transferred to the Washington on Kloo's recommendation.
"Now that Rojer's gone," Thian went on, to put Lea at ease, "we'll be needing you more, rather than less. We'll add another of the crew Talent to keep you company. By the time we're through with you, Chief, you'll definitely be able to integrate into any Talent team."
"Gee, Talent Captain, sir, that's real nice of you."
Thian wanted to grin at her ambivalent reception of that threat. Instead he took her rejoinder at face value and gave her a bow.
"If that's all, Talent Captain, sir?" she said, coming to attention, "I'd best return to the profession of my choice."
"Can we send you on your way?" Thian asked, his lips twitching to keep his grin under control.
"Thanks, but no thanks, sir," she said as she strode on quick long legs to the door. "I can do just fine the ordinary way." She closed the door firmly behind her.
They all had a good laugh then at her hasty retreat.
"Any truth in what she said about envy, Rame?" Thian asked the commander.
Kloo made a face and tilted her head from one side to the other. "I haven't heard of any disgruntlement. I'll keep an ear open. Mind you, that power weasel can take care of herself. She's been in the Navy long enough to know how. But you're wise to shift around with the other lower Talents. Give all of them a break as well as practical lessons."
"Some are much better than others," Clancy said. "See you at dinner?" he added as he and Kloo also took their leave.
Well? asked the Rowan, Callisto Prime, pointedly of her husband, Jeff Raven, Earth Prime.
Well what? was the innocent response.
I don't want to have to drag it out of you.
I'm waiting for Damia ... Ah, there you are, Jeff said, ignoring the exasperated snort from his wife. All your kids are fine and healthy in tone and we shipped every single one of those heavy supply drones with nary a variation on either gestalt support. Rojer and his 'Dinis are now on board the Columbia, and that should prove interesting.
Are you sure about Thian? Damia asked.
Can't you feel the truth in my mind? Jeff asked.
Don't be difficult, Father, Damia said. You keep taking my children and depositing them where you want them, and wonder why I worry.
It isn't as if they haven't improved, her mother said in a slightly censorious tone.
Just remember the pressures they are not subjected to right now, Jeff said with no humor at all in his mental touch.
Is it getting worse, Dad? Damia asked contritely.
Anything we can do to help? added Afra. The two Primes had sensed his presence, but Afra waited for the appropriate moment to join conversations between his wife and her parents.
Just keep our good friends on Iota Aurigae happy and ship off as much of that fine ore as possible.
More ships? asked Afra.
The Navy wants six Washington-class so it can reduce the number of support vessels needed. They plan to use the Constellations and Galaxies to stand guard on Hiver worlds that might be about to send off a new colony ship. Jeff's tone was droll. That Genesee ploy the kids invented has given both Navies tremendous confidence.
Too much? Afra asked.
Even if there's been such criticism about Talents abandoning our "traditional" noncombative role? Damia asked, her tone wry. She'd been very proud of Thian and Rojer for coming up with a strategy that had ended the need of suicide missions to destroy Hiver spheres. It had gone against Afra's methody pacifism that events had caused his sons to think of such a tactic even if it had saved lives and, in another application, destroyed Hiver spheres.
Defense has always been permissible, Jeff replied. The Council now has other, more pressing worries.
Then the estimated ratio of Hiver-occupied planets has gone up? Afra asked.
Unconfirmed. Probably down, since some of those probed show dead installations. But that doesn't reduce the threat the species poses. The results of Kincaid's report while on search with Squadron D have to be revised if four of the twenty probed are either ecologically nonviable or prove to be failed colonies.
Those were all farther out from the original homeworld, said Afra pensively.
True, so we've just begun to search. The humorous note in Jeff's voice as he paraphrased an old adage showed his incredible resilience in the face of constant attacks and criticisms from the various factions of the two allies, Human and Mrdini. I'm only the messenger, he added, as if he had perceived Afra's thought. The two knew each other to their fundamental conscious levels.
For which we are all eternally grateful, said the Rowan crisply.
What's being reported for the other side of the galaxy? Afra asked.
I'm waiting to hear. Perry's the Prime with the Fourth Fleet. I should have told Thian that Admiral Ashiant's squadron is to be called First Fleet from now on.
My, we are getting fancy, the Rowan said.
I'm so glad you got Perry and Morgelle away from old David, Damia said at the same time.
Yes, their Talent was being wasted, Jeff replied, especially since David is now willing to train up Xahra and that youngling Prime he just discovered in his own backyard. I'll have to reassign Morgelle from Second Fleet shortly but she's learned enough, Flavia said, to run a Tower. You provoked him, you know, Damia, with all your brood ...
Not all my brood, Dad, and you leave the babies alone. I don't want them to have to grow up fast like Thian and Rojer did.
That's a low blow, Damia, said her mother and her husband almost in the same thought.
No one can regret the attack on Thian or Prtglm's outrageous wasting of Gil and Kat and its effect on Rojer more than I. There was such deep remorse in her father's voice that Damia was immediately contrite, laving him with affection and apology.
They did mature from those experiences, Damia, said the Rowan in a neutral tone ... and Damia was further rueful when she knew her mother obliquely referred to her brother Larak, dead these many years, lost in the necessity of countering the mental entity Sodan. She had been the designated focus, but Larak had gone in first and Sodan's mental strike, aimed at her, had killed her T-2 brother. And we are all exceedingly proud of them.
Which David would like a little of, please, for his children, Jeff continued, getting over that sad reminder quickly. You'll be happy to know that Gollee Gren's found a half-dozen new potential high Talents. One who had a near-death accident bringing out latent kinetic Talent. He's testing well at the Two Level.
Is he? That's very good news. Damia meant that sincerely. So I get to keep my younglings awhile longer?
We'll see how they develop, her father said in a teasing tone, as if he didn't expect much from the four younger Lyons.
Jeff chuckled. You do leave yourself wide open for a tease, you know, dear heart. To businesswhen's the next ore shipment?
Miner Mexalgo has four big daddies but wants to wait till he has the full half-dozen. To make our effort worthwhile. Another hull from the mines of Iota Aurigae? Damia's tone held pride for her world's ability to supply the raw materials that would become elements of the expanding Allied Fleet. I'll let you know. It shouldn't be too long at the rate they're working: Humans and Mrdini. She chuckled and heard her father echo that.
Iota Aurigae had as many Mrdini settlers now as it had Human. The 'Dinis missed their hot fierce primaries, but in a mine, who sees the sun? They had space, their own settlements including finer hibernatories, better than those on their home planets, Clarf and Sef, although there was considerably more prestige in going to a Clarf facility.
As a Prime Talent, Damia was far more aware than most people that the Mrdini worlds were overpopulated and the pressure on them needed relief: much of her awareness derived from her oldest daughter, Laria, who was Clarf's Prime. The High Council had discussed the disposition of colonial expansion in private and public debates. Since the seven Human colony worlds had been free from the Hiver assaults until the Hivers' abortive attempt on Denebknown as the Deneb PenetrationHuman worlds were by no means as critical in population densities as the five Mrdini planets were. With the Alliance, fewer 'Dini were dying in combat against spheres, although their birth rate remained as high as it had been when more spacers were needed. The Allied Council had voted, almost unanimously, that the first nine suitable planets would be given to the Mrdini and the tenth made available for Humans. That decision had immediately met with resistance from a new faction, calling itself Planets for People, to the many disparate "voices" on the twelve Alliance worlds. However, the High Council was not moved to award an equal distribution of suitable worlds, since the intent of that opposition was specious.
In the first place, an "ideal" Mrdini planet would be hotter than those comfortable for Human habitation. In the second place, few Humans realized how desperately crowded the five Mrdini worlds were, in conditions no Human would tolerate. The Humans had only begun to spread out across the earth-type planets in the Capella, Deneb and Iota Aurigae systems. Their need was not as urgentunless it was prompted by obvious tit-for-tat mentalities. On Clarf and Sef, the two most overpopulated Mrdini worlds, a corresponding faction immediately erupted, demanding that the first twenty suitable worlds should be Mrdini, since their race had struggled alone for two hundred years against the Hivers.
In the third place, the disposition of any new colonial worlds depended on many factors, the most important being that the relevant planet not already be occupied by an emerging sentient species. To which the obvious argument was that if the Hivers had already rid the planet of any large, possibly predatory life-forms, that wouldn't be a problem, would it? Since Talavera, a world that had been "prepared" for Hiver occupation, was ecologically ill, how many other prospective planets would be in a similar state?
There would probably be as many theoriesand opponents of those theoriesas there were M-type planets in the galaxy. And who knew what other intelligent spacefaring species might exist in the quadrants not yet explored by Mrdini, Human and Hiver ships?
While most Humans met Mrdini on equal terms, not all Humans and not all Mrdini were in favor of continued close association now that the enemythe Hivershad received a major setback. Matters closer to home and divisive individual concerns often received more attention and publicity than the problem that still faced the Allies: finding Hiver-occupied worlds and somehow restricting the alien creatures to them.
Masses of details needed to be gathered by elements of both Navies: discovering which worlds the Hivers occupied, how full they were, which M-type planets ignored by the spheres trying to find a new homeworld would be suitable for Mrdini or Human occupation.
One loud group didn't want any further Human expansion. A more virulent sect wanted to control FT&T because FT&T were "weasel lovers" and should not be trusted to conduct the Towers in strict accordance with its original Charter. This ominously growing group took note of the most minute variation, discrepancy or minor modification undertaken by Towers or emanating from the Blundell Building, the main FT&T headquarters on Earth. Some of the dissidents were medium to low Talents, dissatisfied by their assignments or claiming professional partisanship.
"Everyone knows that the Towers are dominated by a few families," was the most frequently lodged, and unfortunately accurate, accusation. The fact that Primes were rare enough did not apparently enter into the complaints. In the matter of Tower Primes, nepotism was far more benign than malignant or inefficient. In reality, the responsibilities and duties of a Prime far outweighed any reward: remuneration was strictly controlled, although a Prime could, by virtue of his or her ability, live anywhere he or she chose. Genetics played a critical part in providing more high Talents, though some emerged from unexpected sources, as had the Rowan, Callisto Prime, reared on Altair, and Jeff Raven, Earth Prime, who had comerather reluctantlyfrom Deneb to assume the responsibilities which had been Peter Reidinger's until his death. Children on every Human world were now routinely tested at puberty for any vestige of trainable Talent. Every scrap of latent Talent was carefully nurtured, developed and trained to make the best possible use of it. If some had delusions of strength, they were soon ineluctably placed in the category appropriate to their real abilities. Oftentimes, a minor Talent increased with usage, and FT&T was only too pleased to reassess and upgrade that person.
It had been a matter of necessity that four of the five children born to the Rowan and Jeff had been encouraged to produce large families. Jeran, Cera and Damia were T-1's, Ezro was a T-3 physician, while the deceased Larak had been a T-2. Even his one child, Grayhan, was a T-2. All of the offspring in the Raven-Lyon marriage were T-1's, though for some time it was thought that Zara, the second daughter, might be a dysfunctional T-1. She was now fully trained in a medically oriented Talent, so it was unlikely that she'd be asked to assume the responsibilities of a Tower.
David of Betelgeuse had three T-1 children: Perry, Morgelle and Xahra. Jeran, now Denebian Prime, had four, Barry being of an age with Rojer, while Cera had three, also potential high Talents. The Bastianmajani couple from Altair had produced a T-1 in Flavia, though her brothers and sisters were lesser Talents. They were completely unrelated to the Gwyn-Raven-Lyon group. Rather more Denebians had latent Talents than other first-generation colonial worlds. They were lazy about using them, though the Eagleses, Ravens, Sparrows and other clans supplied many of the high 4, 3 and 2 Talentswhen they chose to move off-planet. No one could be forced, against personal inclination, to make use of Talent. The Denebians, as a group, were far more interested in developing their world. Unfortunately, Talents were still an elite and limited group and their abilities were more and more in demand now that Humans and Mrdinis were spreading ever outward from their homeworlds. The plain facts, of course, rarely figured in the complaints of nepotism that were lodged.
Any good news? the Rowan asked, so pointedly her daughter winced.
If you mean great-grandchildren, no, Damia said with a sigh. She had so hoped that Laria would be able to win Vanteer's constant affection. The T-6 engineer at Clarf Tower had one failing: he couldn't settle to just one woman and already had several offspring from different women, Humans living on Clarf. That two of the infants seemed to have Talented minds augured well for any children he might give Laria.
What's the problem? the Rowan asked.
I thinkthe reply came from Afrathat Laria intimidates him. A T-6 would have no defense against a mental invasion by a determined Prime. Damia was pleased that Laria had not resorted to that in her wish to become pleasing to Vanteer.
What? The Rowan found that hard to believe. She's not aggressive.
Like some you could name, Damia put in, referring to her own teenage experiments in finding a partner.
But you sorted yourself out, her mother said.
Laria is a different personality entirely ...
For which we are grateful, said Jeff, teasing again, but his touch was fond.
So don't you two meddle, Damia said sharply.
We have our ethics, Jeff said, though there are some who do not believe it.
Father, of course you do. I'm sorry I said that. Damia was once again contrite.
We might shift some more willing prospects to Clarf now that we have some breathing space, Jeff suggested.
I can't think who would be suitable, Damia said with another sigh.
Well, this latent T-2 kinetic, the one Gollee Gren's been training, is an attractive person, the Rowan said. I think he's also related to Yoshuk at Sef Tower, a younger brother.
Yoshuk's a good man, Damia said with a lift of hope in her voice. There was a hint in her mind that she found Vanteer's reluctance to ally her daughter an insult to the entire family.
She's twenty-six and a bit, Afra reminded them. Give her time to settle on someone who is compatible. And no need to remind us, Damia m'love, that you'd had four children at Laria's age.
I was lucky. The deep love and affection she had for Afra was a vibrant note in her voice.
You were! the Rowan said softly.
I was the lucky one, Afra said firmly. Worth waiting for, and let us give Laria that option too.
Agreed, said Jeff, and on that comment he and the Rowan left the merge.
"How can Vanteer say that Laria intimidates him?" Damia asked, sliding upright and swinging her legs to the side of her couch. "Zara might, but not Laria. She's very careful with relationships. Look how well she and Kincaid get along..." She made a face. "I so wish he was interested in women." She gave a gusty sigh. "As a T-2, he'd be an ideal match."
Afra sat up too, his expression thoughtful. "Kincaid is so good with our younger ones when he visits." Damia gave him a sharp look. But he shrugged. "Just an observation. She and Kincaid have a very good rapport."
"Not that good ..."
"At least as far as it goes."
Then she said briskly. "If Gollee has someone to send to Clarf for training, it might even make Vanteer jealous. After all, there'll be a lot of activity from that planet once colonization starts. Another Talent might be needed."
"Kincaid's certain that Clarf has already started provisioning colony ships, choosing specialists and color groups, ready to go the moment First FleetI rather like that new designation"
"So do I," Damia agreed, standing up and arching her back in a stretch.
"That Clarf will be overworked, sending off personnel carriers, message tubes and cargo drones. Up, up and away." He grinned at her over such eagerness.
"Well, the 'Dinis need the room to spread out in, that's certainly true. I just hope the Hivers haven't ruined other, perfectly good worlds as they did Talavera." She frowned, having heard from Zara in detail about the ecological damage wreaked on that planet. She put on her coat and prepared to leave.
Putting an affectionate arm about his wife's shoulders, Afra guided her to the Tower steps. They met Keylarion on her way up.
"Oh, you haven't gone," their T-6 station manager said, surprised.
"Oh yes, we have and you haven't seen us," Damia said.
"Unless it's urgent," Afra appended, giving his wife a reproving look. She made a face at him.
"Xexo and me are set to do some recalibrations, that's all," Keylarion said, and as if on cue, the T-8 engineer arrived from his section of the Tower, diagnostic equipment hanging from both arms and down his back.
"Ah, you're finished. Good," Xexo said as he went past them on the stairs, grunting at the weight he was carrying.
"Anything serious?" Damia asked, since Afra's reproof had recalled her sense of duty.
"No, just to be sure," Xexo said, and Keylarion winked as she followed him.
Damia grinned back at her, knowing how particular the engineer was about his beloved generators.
Outside in the brisk late-winter air of Iota Aurigae, Damia folded her coat about her and huddled against Afra's long frame, to shield herself from the worst of the wind.
Their 'Dinis came rushing out of the house, chattering as if their friends had been gone for weeks instead of a few hours. Tri caught Afra's free hand while Fok took Damia's and escorted them the rest of the way.